Mike Laycock

  • The BProf: a signature award for negotiated work-based learning

    Mike Laycock, HE Consultant

    Conceptual paper

    Themes: employability

    Tuesday 8 September 2009, 10.10 - 11.10 in room 119

    For many years, Higher Education throughout the world has been under increasing pressure to demonstrate its relevance, and contribution, to economic growth and regeneration.

    The UK Government’s increasing emphasis on flexible modes of delivery such as work-based learning to improve employability, the UK's higher skills agenda and enhancing productivity levels can be evidenced by the rapid growth of undergraduate and postgraduate work-based learning programmes. The other elements of the current agenda appear to be: increasing employer influence and engagement in the design of HE programmes; and developing opportunities for 14-19 year olds through a two-year vocational Diploma at level 3 (and, more recently, the proposal for a “Bachelor of Vocational Studies” degrees awarded through a National Skills University on the basis of the two years' study at level three, followed by two years in higher education).

    This paper suggests firstly, that the influence of an ‘employer-demand-led’ approach is inappropriate and unnecessary, both in terms of the freedom of the academy to engage in critical scholarship and the freedom of learners to take responsibility for their own learning.

    Secondly, it is argued that the development of ‘competency-based’ awards in ‘vocational studies’ will simply stigmatise those learners for whom ‘traditional’ degrees are deemed inappropriate to their needs or not within their capabilities. The resurrection of ‘parity of esteem’ arguments seems imminent and again, it will be argued, unnecessary.

    Thirdly, the paper suggests a fresh examination of the relationship between the learner, the academy and the employer and the generation of an appropriate award which reflects and recognises the growth, status and importance of negotiated work-based learning and the graduate qualities developed through the learning process.

    A BProf or Professional Bachelor’s award is proposed. The discussion will focus on the development of a framework which attempts to define the concept and principles of the BProf award by drawing on those of Professional Doctorates.  In essence, the BProf would necessarily involve substantial elements of negotiated work-based learning in the form of projects formulated by the learners themselves.. The respective interests of the three parties (employee, employer and academy) would be protected by the use of three-way negotiated learning agreements, the learner negotiating the purpose, direction and content of the learning, the academy providing specialist supervision and access to accreditation, and the employer providing opportunities for access to resources and help.

    Indicative reading list

    • Costley, C., Stephenson, J. (2005) The impact of workplace doctorates – a review of 10 case studies at Middlesex University. Paper for AERA
    • Doyle, M. (2003) A Reflexive Critique of Learner Managed Learning, Education On-line, Lancaster University.
    • Nixon, I., Smith, K., Stafford, R., and Camm, S. (2006) Work-based learning: Illuminating the higher education landscape, Final Report, The Higher Education Academy (CHERI / KPMG)
    • Reeve, F., and Gallacher, J. (2000) Implementing Work-based Learning in Higher Education: exploring control and negotiation in the curriculum. Paper presented at the Working Knowledge Conference, Sydney, Australia, 10-13 December